Grandmother of GA teens charged in baby’s shooting death: They’re innocent

A Glynn County Sheriff's Deputy directs 17 year-old De Marquise Elkins out of the courtroom in the Glynn County Courthouse in Brunswick, Ga. after Elkin's first appearance hearing in Magistrate Court Monday, March 25, 2013. Elkins and a 14 year-old were arrested Friday, March 23 and charged by warrant in the shooting death of 13-month-old Antonio Santiago. (AP Photo/The Brunswick News/Bobby Haven)

A Glynn County Sheriff's Deputy directs 17 year-old De Marquise Elkins out of the courtroom in the Glynn County Courthouse in Brunswick, Ga. after Elkin's first appearance hearing in Magistrate Court Monday, March 25, 2013. Elkins and a 14 year-old were arrested Friday, March 23 and charged by warrant in the shooting death of 13-month-old Antonio Santiago. (AP Photo/The Brunswick News/Bobby Haven)

BRUNSWICK, GA- The grandmother of the teenage boy accused of the brutal murder of 13-month-old Antonio Santiago says she just hopes her grandson gets a fair trial.

Hazel Etheredge, 49, is the paternal grandma of De’Marquise Elkins, 17, who alongside a 15-year-old boy is accused of shooting 13-month-old Antonio in the face at point blank range in a botched robbery attempt. Both boys have been charged as adults.

“I am just praying they get a fair trial,” Etheredge told theGrio in her first print media interview.

She adds that she “hopes it will help” that the trial has been moved to a different part of Georgia — 300 miles away in Marietta — because of extensive local media coverage.

In fact, the horrific murder, which occurred in March, sparked nationwide public outrage. Within the small, close-knit, coastal city of Brunswick, opinions about the killing have been sharply polarized along racial lines.

Some residents are questioning the credibility of baby Antonio’s mother or whether her story was enough evidence for police to arrest the boys. Glynn County detectives have no eyewitnesses, other than Sherry West’s version of events.

A complicated case

West reportedly has a history of mental health issues and sources tell theGrio her relationship with baby Antonio’s father was volatile, causing police to visit their home on more than one occasion.

West’s daughter, Ashley Glassey, has publicly stated in interviews that her mother is bipolar, with schizophrenic tendencies. The 21-year-old also says she is suspicious because West, who lost custody of her when she was 8 years old, told her conflicting versions of events leading to her brother’s death.

Glassey alleges that on the night of the shooting her mother asked, “How soon do you think life insurance policy will send me a check?” She claims she has contacted police with her concerns but they have not called her back.

Still, West has always steadfastly maintained that her baby was shot in his stroller by two black teens. She identified Elkins and the 15-year-old as the ones who shot her son.

“They just need to figure out if she’s [Sherry West] crazy,” says Brunswick native, Etheredge. “He’s [Elkins] doing as well as can be expected, considering the situation. He says he’s innocent.”

In an unexpected twist it has been reported that forensic experts discovered gunshot residue on clothing belonging to both parents directly after the shooting. West claims she was alone, and that the father, Louis Santiago, was at a WalMart at the time of the shooting.

Kevin Gough, the lawyer for 17-year-old De’Marquise Elkins, told theGrio, “We remain confident that when the jurors hear all the evidence they will agree that Mr. Elkins is not guilty.”

According to local reports, the couple has separated and Santiago is now in jail, held without bond on charges of aggravated stalking related to family violence and violation of probation.

Rev. Kenneth Adkins, the pastor of a prominent local church, says, “In the aftermath of George Zimmerman trial, this case has opened up old wounds and simmering racial tension in Brunswick.”

“With this new evidence people are unsure of whether these kids are involved. People want to get to the truth,” says Adkins of the Greater Dimensions Christian Fellowship.

With these revelations, comparisons are now being drawn between this case and that of Susan Smith. In 1995, Smith murdered her two sons, 3-year-old Michael Daniel Smith and 14-month-old Alexander Tyler Smith.  After an intensive 9-day manhunt, it was determined that Smith lied to authorities when she said that an unknown African-American man carjacked her and kidnapped the boys.

In the case involving the two teens in Brunswick, Georgia, both boys were denied bond and have been charged as adults with first-degree murder. If convicted, neither will face the death penalty because both were younger than 18 at the time of the incident, Dist. Atty. Jackie Johnson of the Brunswick Judicial Circuit said in a statement sent by email to reporters.

The mother of Elkins, 36-year-old Karimah Elkins, and his 33-year-old aunt, Katrina Elkins, had also been jailed for allegedly giving false statements to authorities regarding the case. They claimed the boys were somewhere else when the alleged crime took place. They have subsequently been released on bond.

The case is set to go to trial August 19th.

Follow Kunbi Tinuoye on Twitter at @Kunbiti